Fun Stuff

How The War Amps Return 1.5 Million Sets of Car Keys to Canadians

Hands up if you’ve ever lost a set of car keys. Most of us have, experiencing the panic-induced rush of endorphins when reaching into that pocket only to find it empty.

Now what? In this day and age, keys have turned into something of a small smart device, packed with expensive electronics and used to control features in one’s car ranging from starting the thing to remotely lowering its windows. A few – ahem, BMW, ahem – even require charging the keys thanks to their inclusion of an LCD colour touchscreen. Losing one’s keys has become an expensive problem.

Enter the Key Tag Service from The War Amps. Created by amputee veterans in 1946, the program is designed to send wayward keys back to their rightful owners. It all depends on a white plastic tag bearing a confidentially coded number registered to your mailing address and dangling from your keychain. With this tag attached, the person who finds your keys need only drop them in a Canada Post box or call a toll-free number on the reverse side. The War Amps will privately match that coded number with your home address and return your keys.

Wait – they’re returned to your door, privately and securely at no cost? How does that work? And who manages this minor feat of logistics?

To find out more, we spoke with James Jordan. He’s a Public Awareness Officer with The War Amps, responsible for spreading the Association’s safety message across Canada by hosting and organizing safety exhibits and presentations (those events look a bit different in this Covid-era). As a spokesperson, he was born missing his left arm below the elbow and was enrolled in The War Amps Child Amputee Program at just six months of age.

“The funds we raise through the key tag service via donations mainly go to fund financial assistance for child amputees,” Jordan explained. “Helping with the purchase of limbs takes stress off parents and guardians. Not everything is covered by medical insurance in all provinces,” he continues. “The War Amps aim to step in and pay the balance of whatever total remains after insurance. No child amputee should have to bear the burden of all the cost.”

Hey, we’re not crying. You’re crying. Perhaps it’s something in our eye.

Expanding on how veterans started the program 75 years ago, Jordan says servicemen wanted to give back to their communities and decided to implement some sort of lost key return system. It morphed into the largest “at your honour” service and has since been responsible for the return of about 1.5 million sets of keys since the program’s inception.

Keys can make their way through the system in a couple of different ways. Dropping a tagged set in the mailbox is the traditional route, one that sees the keys shipped to the Association’s central processing centre in Ontario and then back to the owner. But calling the toll-free number on the tag’s reverse side can produce quicker results. “Say you found a set in Vancouver,” said Jordan, explaining how the toll-free pick-up service works. “A bonded courier will be dispatched to retrieve the keys, at which time a double-blind process has them boxed up and delivered locally.” This protects identity while returning the property.

The latter is an important point, especially in this age of digital privacy. Only The War Amps can match a key tag number with the owner of lost keys. At no time does it divulge the name or address of the owner to the finder of lost keys. It doesn’t share the mailing list in any way.

There are some funny stories that accompany the key-tag program. “One person contacted us to say they lost their keys on a fishing trip,” Jordan said. “Someone else reeled them in from the water, saw The War Amps key tag, and put them in the mail. We got them back to the original owner.”

Jordan thinks the service is even more vital in our modern era because of key and key fob replacement costs; your author agrees, even with the rise of “phone as a key” features. The return program is free to all Canadians – even ones who don’t or can’t donate to The War Amps – but the hope is people understand the value of this program and give a few dollars. Jordan says there are no government grants at The War Amps.

Speaking of, helping their clients is no small – or cheap – undertaking. According to the Association’s 2019 annual report, over $15 million in net donations made their way to The War Amps, plus six figures’ worth of bequests and an incremental amount of financial interest. The vast majority, over $8 million, went to help child amputees and their expenses. Adults were helped in the same manner, along with some research and education plus other programs to benefit their members. A financial statement from PWC in 2019 listed about $400,000 worth of Key Tag supplies on hand.

The last piece of our puzzle was to answer the question of how long it takes for one’s keys to wend their way back to their owner through the system. Now, before you sputter off an indignant email intended to pillory and skewer this author for needlessly wasting War Amps money on postage for sake of a story, please know my fee for this article has been donated to the good people at The War Amps – covering the expense and then some.

We deposited a set of tagged keys on February 26, a Friday. It is assumed they were collected that same day since they were placed in the box prior to the pickup time Canada Post had noted on that particular unit outside a shopping mall. Just over four weeks later – 33 days or 23 business days, to be exact – the keys arrived back on my doorstep, delivered in a tidy Purolator envelope. Accompanying them in the package were a couple of extra key tags bearing different numbers that could be shared with friends and activated with a new address.

That, friends, is nothing short of remarkable in this Covid era of delivery delays and other challenges. It’s also a testament to the organization and logistical strength of The War Amps network. A key tag now resides on each set in my household – and this author firmly believes they should in yours, too.

The War Amps Key Tag Service is a free program, but those who find value in it can choose to make a donation. Canadians can order key tags online by visiting or by calling 1-800-250-3030.